Re: Photo: Wrecked Freight Cars (Undated)

Charlie Vlk


This wreck picture has drawn comments from both the STMFC and EarlyRail groups so please excuse the dual post….

The CB&Q leased in late 1878, then purchased, ten National Steel Tube box cars built under the LaMothe patents.  They also built two cars under license that had railroad improvements…the ill-fated 8300 and 8301.  These cars had underframes and body structure framed with steel tubes and covered with iron sheet, primarily held together with cast and wrought connectors.   LaMothe and his successors had limited sales of cars over a period of approximately 30 years going back to before the Civil War.  While this is predates the STMFC era it is an interesting insight into the attitude of Master Mechanics on the early dawn of the steel car era.

The following is a transcription of a letter from Harry B. Stone (who would play a pivotal role later in the famous Burlington Strike), Superintendent of the Locomotive and Car Department, regarding  a car “in a badly demoralized condition””



Office Supt. Loco & Car Depts


Aurora Ill,  November 30th  1880

T.J. Potter Esq.

      Genl Mgr- Chicago


Dear Sir:     I now have at the Aurora Shops tubular car No. 8300, which was in the wreck at Rio, in a badly demoralized condition and which shows much more plainly than I have been able to explain heretofore, the disadvantages of its “spider web” construction.  The next car to it was one of our common wooden cars and which came out of the racket with comparatively small injuries.

   This car is in such bad shape that I am entirely at a loss to know how to repair it, and if left to my own devices should probably tear it down and put it into scrap; as however it is a patent car I would suggest that you notify the patentee, Mr. W. O. Cooke,  Nos. 13 & 15 Park Row, New York City, and ask him if he will not come out and advise with use in regard to its repair.  Before doing anything with the car I shall have a careful and thorough report made and also sketches showing the manner of failure.


Yours truly,

(sgd)    Harry B. Stone


(Car 8300 was eventually stripped and received a body with the same  28’ dimensions but with standard CB&Q wood body details. The other car built under license, 8301, in 1887 received a wood body which had standard CB&Q 34’ box car dimensions.)


The “common wooden” cars were easy to repair and the railroads were well equipped to handle them.  Until lumber in the sizes and species needed became difficult to source and expensive the railroads were reluctant to move to iron and steel cars and to convert the infrastructure to build and maintain them.


Charlie Vlk




From: <> On Behalf Of Schuyler Larrabee via
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2021 11:46 AM
Subject: Re: [RealSTMFC] Photo: Wrecked Freight Cars (Undated)


Very interesting observation, Dennis.  I was surprised at how well the wood-framed cars retained their structural integrity as a rectilinear box, though the corner of the metal roofed car suffered considerably.


But I was curious about the evidently dismembered car number 1776 in the upper left of the photo.  Cleanly chopped off, it appears, and where is the rest of that car?




From: <> On Behalf Of Dennis Storzek
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2021 12:36 PM
Subject: Re: [RealSTMFC] Photo: Wrecked Freight Cars (Undated)


On Sun, Jun 20, 2021 at 10:07 AM, Bob Chaparro wrote:

Coming in late here, but this photo is an excellent example of the problems with early steel roofs, and why they were so slow to be adopted. Looking at the wrecked cars in the pile, only one has a steel roof. The cars with the double board roofs are mostly intact, while the one steel roof is completely destroyed; all of the seams between panels have split open. Admittedly, the car has likely endured extreme racking, but wood framed house cars ( and the early steel framed cars with less than optimal stiffness in the roof structure) where known to rack in normal service, termed "weaving" in the trade press of the day. Because of this the sheets of the early steel roofs would loosen from the car, and leak. The initial solution to this problem was to add heavy metal clasps to the edge of the roof, the theory being that this allowed larger screws into the eave, to better hold the sheets in place. The car in the photo has these, two per panel. However, as the photo illustrates, this really was not effective because it didn't address the basic problem.

The next stage of improvement, about WWI, was the "flexible" or "pivoted" metal roof, examples from all three major roof vendors illustrated HERE.
This separated the metal panel from the roof eave with a slip joint, and provided wide wood battens to clamp down the edges of the sheets without restraining their lateral movement. The wood battens were then covered with wide metal seam caps designed to keep the water out of the joints.

The next stage of development, in the twenties, eliminated the wood sheathing and integrated the seam caps with the supporting carlines, while still providing the flexibility required. The Hutchins Dry Lading and Viking roofs are examples., The problem wasn't truely solved until the carbuilders and railroads decided to allow enough material in the roof structure to actually prevent weaving, with the flat riveted roofs as used on the X29 and early ARA steel cars, which were a precursor to the Murphy "Solid Steel" roof.

Dennis Storzek

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